Watch CBS News

Researchers learning more about Zika dangers

Aside from problems in newborns, which include microcephaly, there is emerging evidence of neurological problems in adults also linked to the Zika virus
Researchers learning more about Zika's dangers 02:03

PITTSBURGH-- The House approved financial incentives for companiesdeveloping treatments for Zika. But Congress has still not acted on a White House request for nearly $2 billion to fight the virus.

Meanwhile, researchers are learning more about Zika every day.

CDC sounds Zika warning: "Scarier than we initially thought" 03:32

For researchers like Dr. Ernesto Marques at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, working on Zika for the last year has meant playing catch up.

"It was thought it was a benign virus that wouldn't cause any significant harm to human disease, and it turns out it causes all kinds of problems that we never imagined," he said.

The problems in newborns include microcephaly, an abnormally small brain at birth, and damage to nerve tissue in the eye.

But there is emerging evidence of neurological problems in adults, too -- including inflammation of the brain, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a form of paralysis. And a week ago, a case of a 15-year-old girl with inflammation of the spinal cord.

These new reports of rare complications are surprising researchers. After a study of Zika infected patients in Brazil, the author concluded: "There is strong evidence that this epidemic has different neurological manifestations than those referred to in (existing) literature."

CDC Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat says researchers are just starting to learn why the virus may be so dangerous.

"In animal studies of the Zika virus, it seems that the virus is attracted to nerve tissue or brain tissue and so we worry that in humans that this virus may destroy nerve tissue or attack brain cells," she said.

To keep this in perspective, most people who get Zika recover completely after a relatively mild illness.

Dr. Schuchat told CBS News the focus remains on preventing pregnant women from getting infected.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.